Art d'Ecco on the 50th Anniversary of 'Transformer': "I Often Wonder, 'What Would Lou Reed Do?'"

"As for musical lineage and the glam sound in general? I'm tired of the label. It sucks."

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 11, 2022

Had things gone a little differently, modern music listeners might have never heard of Lou Reed. The Velvet Underground were famously commercially unsuccessful, and, after Reed left the group in 1970, he got a day job and his first solo album flopped. That might have been the end of his story.

Instead, he linked up with co-producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson for his sophomore solo album, 1972's Transformer, giving himself a glam makeover and finally finding the success that had eluded him up to that point. Singles "Walk on the Wild Side," "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love" remain among his most famous tracks, offering a glimpse into a songwriter who could provoke with stories of counterculture but was also willing to be sweet and plainspoken.

British Columbia songwriter Art d'Ecco is one of many artists who have looked to Reed as an inspiration. Art d'Ecco's early albums, 2018's Trespasser and 2021's In Standard Definition, found the pop-rock musician evoking Reed's Transformer aesthetic with striking makeup and dark circles around the eyes, while his music combined the swaggering boogie of glam with gothic post-punk and synth-spiked dance influences.

His latest album, 2022's After the Head Rush, saw him leave his makeup on the shelf — an evolution that, even if it's not directly inspired by Reed, draws on the same fearless spirit of reinvention. Just like Reed, who spent the decades after his commercial breakthrough dabbling in left-field experiments, d'Ecco is a transformer.

Transformer celebrated its 50th anniversary on November 8, and to mark the occasion, Exclaim! caught up with d'Ecco to discuss how Reed inspires his approach to criticism, the importance of a sonically varied album, and why he finds being called glam "almost disparaging."

How did you first hear Transformer, and what was your reaction?

I can't recall to be honest, it was likely one of the hits: "Walk on the Wild Side," "Perfect Day," "Satellite of Love." It's one of those albums where the ballads are so sweeping and cinematic and romantic, yet there's these curveball tracks that come across with a cabaret, ragtime-y silliness. That dichotomy and contrast is super interesting to me, even if it somewhat confuses you at first. I crave dynamic range in an album experience. Transformer has it in spades. 

What's your favourite song on Transformer?

"Perfect Day." Lou Reed was such a direct lyricist. He didn't mince words, and there's this economy of language in his songs that feel conversational and simplistic. The lush string and piano arrangements from Mick Ronson are as beautiful as the day suggests. The song and everything about it is quite literally perfect

Where do you rank Transformer within Lou Reed's catalogue?

Although one cannot overstate the importance of VU and the mark they left on music, Lou Reed's Transformer has to be the tops for me. When was the last time you cranked "Heroin" or "Sweet Jane" at a dinner party or when you're out for a nice walk? I just don't really have any place for the majority of the VU catalogue at this stage of my life, strictly from a casual listening perspective. But Transformer has legs. 

What influence has Transformer, and Lou Reed generally, had on your music as Art d'Ecco?

Lou Reed didn't suffer fools. He famously had a very adversarial relationship with the press and music critics, which is something that, in today's day and age, can hold an artist back. It's a lose-lose proposition to battle with music critics and get into Twitter exchanges over something so subjective as art. I have my weak moments were I want to rage at the stupidity and ignorance, and often wonder "What would Lou Reed do?" Not exactly a lode star for taking the high road, but it is in those brief moments of reflection and pause that I find the strength within me to drop it and move on. 

As for musical lineage and the glam sound in general? I'm tired of the label. It sucks. Of the three Paper Bag Records albums I've released, there's so much more happening in the sound than just glam — I find the label almost disparaging at this point. But I get it. It's an easy way to describe music with those elements, especially when two of the album covers feature a wigged-up clown in white face paint. People often listen with their eyes, so part of the recent change was to steer things even further away from "glam," visually speaking. 

What influence did Lou Reed's Transformer-era image have on your own aesthetic?

In the Trespasser era, I certainly had that Transformer cover as an inspiration. There's a smooth whitewash airbrushing of the face, the sunken eyes. It evoked and triggered a feeling when I looked at it, and I wanted to activate that same feeling in the listeners of my music, for sure. 

But that was also half a decade ago. People change. I've changed. It's evolution, baby. 

What's next for Art d'Ecco? 

The band and I just wrapped up a busy late summer — we went to UK and EU. Played with Hot Chip in London at the O2 Academy, then went to Europe opening for Blossoms on a string of dates.

I'm going to be heading to NYC and L.A. to do some writing for the month of October, which I'm excited about. Only two more shows planned this year — a pair of hometown gigs: Victoria on November 25, Vancouver on November 26. Half the guys that back me up live in Vancouver, so we end up bouncing back and forth a lot. I can still claim Vancouver as my second home, right? 

We've got a busy 2023, but nothing I'm allowed to spill to Exclaim! at this point, so you'll have to check in again soon!

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